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An expansive look at expansion on baseball cards

I enjoyed Cardboard History's recent look at the history of chronicling NBA expansion teams on cardboard.

I'm not much of a pro basketball fan, but I knew this would be something I could translate to baseball. The way card companies, and Topps in particular, have documented Major League Baseball expansion is something I've always been aware of through the years and it would be interesting to see the progression all in one place.

So I looked through my collection and then I filled in the blanks with scans from the internet and I'm now ready to show you how expansion teams were shown that first year of each franchise.

Basically, card companies have used four different ways to feature those teams:

1. List the player with his new expansion team but hide the old uniform in the photo and show the player without a hat.
2. List the player with his new expansion team but airbrush the player's hat so the old logo or old team's colors aren't showing.
3. List the player with his new expansion team but show the player in his old uniform and hat.
4. List the player with his new expansion team and show the player in his new uniform and hat.

We all want to see No. 4, of course, but it's been very difficult for card companies to produce No. 4, as I'll show.

Let's begin at the start of MLB expansion:

1961: Major League Baseball adds the Los Angeles Angels and the Minnesota Twins. The Twins are actually the old Washington Senators, who moved to Minneapolis-St. Paul. So MLB added an expansion team in Washington.

Because of the weirdness of this first expansion, I'm going to show examples for the Angels, Twins and Senators even though I'm not recognizing team moves here and the Twins franchise is actually a team move.

The vast majority of the 1961 expansion team cards are players without any hats and basically featuring zero evidence that they are baseball players. I feel sorry for kids who collected these cards. I don't think I could do it.

Among the 27 Los Angeles Angels featured in the 1961 Topps set, 17 are shown without hats. Two appear in airbrushed caps, including manager Bill Rigney. Four -- all from the higher series in the set -- show players in Angels uniforms and hats. Those four are: #413, Eddie Yost, #448 Del Rice, #508 Rocky Bridges and #527 Gene Leek.

Three show players with their old team, which is so weird. Where was the airbrusher, if you're going to commit to airbrushing, do it already! Those three are: #65 Ted Kluszewski (White Sox), #457 Johnny James (Yankees) and #464 Leroy Thomas (Yankees).

The Twins, technically not an expansion team but they made it just as difficult for Topps to show players in their new uniforms, land six players in Twins uniforms in the '61 set. Three of them are airbrushed into black caps. Two more are airbrushed on league leaders cards. Bill Tuttle is shown wearing a Kansas City A's hat.

Eighteen players, including folks like Harmon Killebrew and Jim Kaat, are shown without hats.

Then there is this glorious thing:

Keep in mind, this is not a Senators card although everyone is wearing a Senators uniform!

This is a Senators card. Man, collecting in '61 had to be some kind of confusing.

Six times Topps shows the NEW Senators in their Senators uniforms (which are the same as the 1960 Senators uniforms, right? Looks that way to me). It shows Senators in airbrushed hats five times. There are 17 hatless dudes.

1962: MLB adds the New York Mets and Houston Colt .45s

If you wanted to find real 120-loss New York Mets in real New York Mets uniforms in 1962, you had to wait until late in the year when the final two series showed up (cards 446-598). There are three Mets wearing Mets gear, Al Jackson (#464), Don Zimmer (#478) and Ed Bouchee (#497). There are also four Mets that are part of the Rookie Stars cards (the floating heads) that are wearing Mets caps at cards #593, #597 and #598.

Three Mets are wearing airbrushed caps, including the Ol' Perfessor here. The others are Jim Marshall and Bob Miller. Everyone else ain't wearing a hat.

Topps did not list the Houston Colt .45s as such on its '62 cards, that wouldn't happen until 1963. Instead they were all listed as Colts.

Joe Amalfitano is the only player featured wearing a Houston Colt '45s hat in the 1962 set, at card #456. A whole bunch of airbrushed or hatless players if you're collecting this team set.

You can find that Colt .45 cap on players in the 1962 Salada Tea coins set though.

1969: MLB adds the Kansas City Royals, Seattle Pilots, Montreal Expos and San Diego Padres

Woo-wee! I would NOT want to be a baseball card creator in 1969. Not only were there four expansion teams to deal with but all that nastiness with the Players Association not allowing player likenesses to be shown.

For a good chunk of the 1969 Topps set you got a whole lot of airbrushing and unclad heads for the expansion teams:

None of them look thrilled.

Topps was getting better though at the percentage of expansion players wearing their new expansion duds.

The breakdown:

Royals: 10 of the 34 players shown as Royals (this includes prospect cards) are wearing real live Royals caps.
Pilots: 6 of the 27 players are wearing Pilots hats. OK, that's not so great.
Expos: 10 of the 28 are wearing Expos hats, although the Ron Brand card hides things pretty well. Not sure about that one.
Padres: 10 of the 30 are wearing Padres hats. Jury is still out on Jerry Davanon, whose hat is covered by the design on the rookie stars card at card #637.

All of the new uniforms show up in the later series. The earliest appearance of an actual Royals, Pilots, Expos or Padres uniform in the '69 Topps set is Ty Cline of the Expos at card #442.

It couldn't have been a fun year for Topps in 1969 but it did manage to pull together this card and that almost makes all the airbrushing and hatless players that showed up in that set worth it.

1977: MLB adds the Seattle Mariners and Toronto Blue Jays

Taken as a whole, the sets issued in series, especially during the '60s and early '70s, provided a disjointed look at the players and teams when it came to expansion squads. Some players didn't appear in their new uniforms, some players did.

But when Topps started issuing its set in one full series in 1973, what it gained in consistency, it lost in its ability to jump on the latest changes.

When MLB added the Mariners and the Blue Jays in 1977, Topps couldn't add players in their new uniforms in the back half of the set. It merely airbrushed every single player signed by Seattle and Toronto.

The good part is that simply airbrushing the hat so it was logo-less, and therefore quite unrealistic, had gone out of practice a good five years earlier. I never could get used to the all-black hats that I saw in the '69 or '71 Topps sets.

The bad part -- at least for the person assigned with painting the Blue Jays logo -- is that they had to replicate that logo for each and every card.

You can see, as I've pointed out in prior posts, that led to a wide variety of renditions of the bird in the logo.

The Mariners logo looks easier to paint but I sure hope the photos for the coaches weren't that tiny when they were painting!

The most notable expansion card to come out of the 1977 Topps set is Mr. Rick Jones, a blog favorite. Not content to paint Jones' hat and logo, the artist went with painting everything about him. All that's missing are some puffy clouds.

Collectors were forced to wait until 1978 to see the Blue Jays and Mariners players in their actual uniforms.

The price of consistency, I guess.

1993: MLB adds the Colorado Rockies and the Florida Marlins

Up until this point, MLB announced the expansion teams and then card companies grappled with how to show those expansion players during the first year that they played.

This began to change with the arrival of the Rockies and Marlins, although not in the presentation of players.

In 1992, Donruss issued logo cards for the two new expansion teams, one year before they started playing.

This is the only saving grace of '92 Donruss, a set I don't like in the least. But I've always liked these logo cards. They're not new as Fleer issued logo cards of the Angels and Twins way back in 1961 (and the NBA sets did the same for expansion teams in the early '70s). But these are the first logo cards that weren't stickers that I ever knew.

As for the expansion players themselves, they were addressed in several ways. By 1993, Donruss, Fleer, Score and Upper Deck had joined Topps in showing MLB players.

Donruss and Fleer weren't shy about the old-style presentation of showing the players in their old uniforms but listing them with their new teams.

Topps waited until its second series to feature Rockies and Marlins cards, for the most part, and it kept to studio shots.

Upper Deck waited even longer so it could showcase some game action for the two new teams.

These two cards show up in the subset that kicks off the '93 set. But there isn't an actual current player card, a non-posed shot, in the Upper Deck set until Eric Young and Charlie Hough roll around at cards #518 and #521.

The second series of Upper Deck in '93 is a stream of Rockies and Marlins cards. They're everywhere.

Most add a welcome brightness to an already vibrant set. Say what you want about the Marlins' teal years but it was an exciting look at the time and everyone had to have one of those hats.

This is a little too teal though. I don't think Upper Deck when I think airbrushing but that's got to be what's happening here.

The '93 sets do a good job of capturing the excitement of expansion at that time. They do go a bit overboard, of course, which is a trademark of '90s card sets.

First there are the "regional stereotype cards":

Did you know there are palm trees in Florida and rocks in Colorado?

Harmless, I guess, but this isn't:

I swear, if I ever downsize my Dodgers card collection, these are the first cards to go. The commemorative expansion team sets, in which Topps merely placed a foil stamp on every card in the set, make almost no sense and they make my brain scrunch up. What is a Marlins logo doing on my Dodgers card?

Topps didn't learn its lesson (probably because collectors didn't learn theirs) and did the same thing in 1998.

1998: MLB adds the Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Here is a sign of modern card collecting:

Showing players in the uniform of a team that -- I won't say doesn't exist yet, but hasn't played a game yet.

Kevin Sweeney didn't even make the major leagues. He didn't get past Class A. Yet here he is in a Diamondbacks uniform and cap. And this card was issued in 1997, the year before Arizona made its debut.

I know Bowman has been doing stuff like this for 25 years but still -- wow.

So anyway, for the first time in the expansion era, you could find cards of players wearing Arizona Diamondbacks uniforms and Tampa Bay Rays uniforms the year before the teams debuted, in 1997. There are Diamondbacks and Rays in Bowman and Bowman's Best and in Topps' '97 set, too.

I'll bet the people painting black caps on 1969 expansion players are jealous.

As for 1998, when both teams finally played real games, a lot of the players are shown posed, especially in Topps' main set.

These are the first two non-prospect players from the Rays and Diamondbacks to pop up on their own Topps cards. Wilson Alvarez is at card #344 and Cory Lidle is at card #348.

Sets issued later in the year showed Rays and Diamondbacks in game action, sets like Ultra, Leaf Rookies & Stars, Fleer Tradition and Pacific Online.

One rediscovery in researching this post is I totally forgot that the Diamondbacks originally used teal in their color scheme (how many colors have they used in 20-plus years anyway?). Here I was bagging on the team for adding what I thought was blue to their team uniform the last couple of years and it was teal all along.

So that's the expansive look back. It seems that whatever card company currently exists is more than ready for the next round of expansion, whenever that happens. I've reached an age where I don't need to pay attention to even more teams. I can't handle the number that exists now. I'm a little envious of the fans who had just 16 teams to follow.

But expansion certainly makes for interesting -- and often weird -- cards. Nothing wrong with that.


Fun post! I love cards showing teams in their first year of existence, but only when they show actual photos rather than airbrushed, photoshopped or just capless players.

FWIW, Don Zimmer is in a Mets uniform in 1962 Topps, but after a May trade his card lists him with the Reds... Screwed me up but good when I first tried to get my 1962 wants sorted out (and I still don't have that Zimmer card)
GCA said…
Poor artists in '77 must have had to guess at the size of that trident M - it usually came out way too small compared to the real photos.
CinciCuse Bill said…
Fun post and excellent research. This blog answered a lot of questions I had wondered about over the years.
John Bateman said…
For some reason I always liked the 1993 Donruss Expansion Draft cards. Though I think Donruss was able to get David Nied in a Rockies uniform.
The 1967 Philly Gum football set included logo cards for each team.
Brett Alan said…
One thing that should be mentioned is that because O-Pee-Chee prints its cards later, and because the company had a particular interest in the Blue Jays, many of the Blue Jays cards in its version of the 1977 set are updates with actual pictures of the Jays in their new uniforms. There's even at least one case (John Lowenstein) of a player shown in a real Jays uniform with one of those OPC notations that he'd been traded. So 1977 collectors COULD see the Jays in their uniforms if they were in Canada, or could get Canadian cards. (I don't think any of the Mariners cards were updated.)
night owl said…
Although I have many Canadian readers, I'm pretty much referring to collecting as an American here as that's my experience. I couldn't have told you what OPC was or even more than two towns in Canada in 1977. So, for the vast majority of collectors, yes, they waited until 1978 to see Blue Jays and Mariners in their actual uniforms.
Mike Matson said…
Interesting look at the expansion cards.
I remember the 1993 Donruss and Fleer doing the logo thing. I have 1993 Upper Deck.
The 1961 set would be confusing..
Nick Vossbrink said…
Oh fun. One of my "mini" collections has been trying to get a page of each new (whether expansion or through moves) team in the year that team was new. It's not the best-looking collection but I enjoy it.

I haven't gotten to the 1990s expansion yet because figuring out what I want to do with multiple brands is more work than I want to go though (plus I have 1993 Topps already in set form). I do feel like I should point out (sorry) that in 1992 Upper Deck and Bowman each had player cards for the first Rockies and Marlins amateur draftees.
Commishbob said…
Love this sort of research! Nice job. I kind of blew off the stuff after 1977, not because I wasn't interested, but because Chuck Hartenstein looks like the worst Elvis impersonator ever and the rest of the Jays appear to be looking askance at him. Ol' Chuck just got me All Shook Up.
Billy Kingsley said…
Glad you liked my post enough to do a baseball version! I didn't realize you guys went so long without any expansion teams, there. Kind of strange to know there are cards showing players for a team before it even takes the field. That's totally new information to me. A team logo card I know, but player cards? Wow.
Nick said…
Excellent post! I'm fascinated by expansion teams, which is I suppose in part because I have yet to witness one as a baseball fan. (I was six years old when the Diamondbacks & Devil Rays were created in '98, but I have no memory of that.) It must be weird to see a whole new team just pop up out of the blue on baseball cards.

Also, that '93 Donruss Brad Ausmus has long been a cornerstone of my collection because he's pictured as a Yankee (with whom he never played) and listed as a Rockie (also with whom he never played!). Still the only example I've ever seen of a double-zero-year card.
Fuji said…
When I hear expansion and cards... my mind immediately goes to the 1993 Florida and Colorado cards, because it seems like every pack I opened back then had at least one Marlins or Rockies card.

As for the Diamondbacks... black, teal, and purple are the first colors that pop into my head. I was surprised to see that they've been using the red, black, and sand colors since 2007.
Old Cards said…
Great subject and great post. 1961 was the very first year I collected cards and you are right, it was confusing, but as far as I knew, that was just the way it was. Back then, I don't think inconsistencies were that important. After all, adults didn't collect cards and us kids didn't have a lot of influence on what was produced.
arpsmith said…
Great post, I really enjoyed the info about the 61 and 62 sets - I don't have many of either set. Very interesting how it has evolved over the years.
Ugo said…
Really fun post. I had no idea the struggles Topps would have had in the early years. The 1993 expansion was the first Baseball expansion I went through. By 1993 I was just buying Upper Deck. (although years later I bought Topps 1993 complete set). It was so exciting getting Marlins and Rockie cards. I was so happy MLB had 28 teams and was balanced so perfectly between Leagues and Divisions. Then within a year they blew up a perfectly good format and created six uneven divisions. I wasn't to excited about then next wave of expansion though. By then I was 20, had stopped collecting cards and really wasn't watching a lot of baseball (1995-2002)
Brett Alan said…
OK, evidently Greg was really not happy with my comment. I apologize for making it sound as though there was something wrong with the post. That was not my intent. I was just trying to add a little extra information.
Adam said…
Great post and quite the exhaustive look at expansion teams. I love the amount of research you put into it as well. Now I'm tempted to go read Billy's NBA piece that inspired this.
I am a few days behind on reading and writing at the moment, but this was a fun post to read. Interesting topic too. I have spent a lot of time sorting the past two weeks, and have run across a few of these cards. Makes me want to go back and spend a little more time looking at them. I am always pretty critical of airbrushing, but never realized how badly it was done on some of these cards until I saw them all in this post.
Adam Kaningher said…
I am even further behind on reading, but this was great. Clearly a ton of research and scanning went into this. I always enjoy seeing Rockies pop up on other blogs, especially those odd 1993 cards.